229. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Kissinger: At NATO I presented détente as a combination of conciliation and firmness.

Giscard invited me to a private dinner. He is concerned about Angola. They will recruit mercenaries, provide gunships, and put mirages into Zaire.

At the very moment when the Soviets begin to blink, the Congress is going to cut our legs off.2

Zaire and Zambia were very upset at Moynihan—who is a laughing stock and a disaster in Europe.

I am purging the African bureau, after the NY Times article3 [There was further discussion of State and Defense leaks].

The President: How about a veto if they pass the bill? I could say it was hasty action, and make the point they are toying with the national interest.

Kissinger: We are living in a nihilistic nightmare. It proves that Vietnam is not an aberration but our normal attitude. When our critics can complain about the volume of SS–19s and cave in Angola, when they can try to change the Soviet internal structure . . .

The Soviets have become a superpower. Before World War I, the emergence of Germany as a major power brought about a war. We have to manage the emergence of the Soviets to a superpower status without a war. We are being deprived of both the carrot and the stick. We will lose Angola and then they will want us to cut off grain to the Soviet Union. We are losing all flexibility and we will soon be in a position of nuclear war or nothing.

[Page 878]

President: I couldn’t agree more.

Kissinger: No one will ever believe us again if we can’t do this. How can they believe we will back them?

[Discussion of Woodward article in the Post about the circumstances of the Nixon pardon.]4

Kissinger: I would recommend to take on the Congress on the national interest. We have little to lose. It was inevitable there would be a Soviet overture—now they are laughing at us. We would have had Angola settled by January if these bastards had not been in town.

President: The more I think of it, the more I think I should veto.

Scowcroft: A veto threat is keeping the bill from being passed.

President: But if we veto and get it sustained, we can at least show that one-third of the government is with us.

Kissinger: We have several problems: even if you veto, we are out of funds.

[Discussion of tactics on veto, delay, and getting $28 million.]

Kissinger: If this works, I would send Schaufele to Africa, go to the UN Security Council in January with a program. We have to be careful about withdrawal of foreign forces.

[The President calls Mahon on Angola reprogramming action.]5

President: He was wafflie at first, but I got him back on the track. We will get the Subcommittee down here. I think we can make it.

Kissinger: It is not just Angola. I think when you make a decision it is the responsibility of each agency head to pull his department in line. They will do the same thing in SALT.

On SALT, I think we cannot count Backfire, we must have a position on cruise missiles, and I must have negotiating flexibility in Moscow. The Pentagon position is to leave out Backfire, and cruise missiles. They lose both ways that way; it counts Backfire as within SALT and lets the cruise missiles run free. They might as a last ditch effort.

President: I talked to Don6 and the JCS.

Kissinger: Brent said you were terrific.

President: I talked to Don. He promised to work with the JCS and he says they are committed to coming up with some new silos.

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Kissinger: They must stop treating me as the soft guy. If they take it seriously . . .

President: Give them a chance.

Kissinger: I think we can get an agreement and sell it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 17. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. On December 19, the Senate passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill, sponsored by John V. Tunney (Democrat, California), that effectively blocked any further covert support for anti-Communist forces in the Angolan civil war.
  3. Reference is presumably to Seymour Hersh, “Angola-Aid Issue Opening Rifts in State Department,” The New York Times, December 14, 1975, pp. 1, 2.
  4. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “Ford Disputed on Events Preceding Nixon Pardon,” The Washington Post, December 18, 1975, pp. A1, A6.
  5. Congressman George H. Mahon (Democrat, Texas), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. No substantive record has been found of the telephone conversation between Ford and Mahon.
  6. Donald Rumsfeld.